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Plaxico Burress and The Inverse of Prisons

by Jose Vilson on September 22, 2009

in Jose

Plaxico Burress with Son, Elijah

Plaxico Burress with Son, Elijah

Today, Plaxico Burress, former wide receiver of the New York Giants, was sentenced to 2 years in jail (with good behavior, it’ll be brought down to 20 months or less). My stance on the matter hasn’t changed much since the last time I’ve ruminated on the topic. I agree that bringing a gun to the club without a holster and without a licensed bodyguard spells danger for anyone, especially a young, rich, Super-Bowl winning Black man. I also agree that he could have hurt anyone there, and if not for his celebrity status, he may have been treated like “any other Black man” who’s faced similar charges.

Then, I looked at the case and didn’t look at the things that might have happened, but did happen. The night before, according to reports, he and his partners were robbed. He’s got a family to feed, and a life to live. He probably didn’t grow up trusting the police. Plus, he shot himself and not anyone else. He had erratic behavior with his team; though his teammates love him, his management had a hard time pinning him down psychologically. With that, I don’t see any real reason to keep him in jail longer than a year, if that. I believe in a combination of counseling, community service, and alternative interventions with prison time for the gun charge based on what actually happened and the evidence laid on the table.

Some of my readers / friends believe I’m too soft on crime, which can’t be further from the truth. People often mistake a zero-tolerance policy for good judgment, and I can’t agree with that. I charge those who have this view haven’t looked at the actual statistics. One of my friends from Facebook showed me a wonderful Wired mini-article entitled: “Nils Christie: Empty the Prisons“, one of the 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World, especially as it pertains to American culture. It’s rather obvious that we as Americans are complicit in the denigration of human beings as a whole. Race notwithstanding, the US has more prisoners than any other country in the world, has more prisoner per capita, and spends more taxpayer money in prisoners than any other country. The number of prisoners since the 1980s has risen over 400%, and while it’s not necessarily true that 3rd graders’ literacy scores determine the number of prisons built, the link between the education complex and prison is almost undeniable.

Plus, as the Wired article mentions, most of these prisoners go to jail for non-violent crimes, and many of the criminals who’ve gone in jail once go right back in (many of them would rather stay IN jail because it’s easier to live in there). Also of note is that, in general, crime rates have gone down as a whole. As a result, have we become a better society for having all these (mostly Black and Latino) men and women isolated? Have marriage rates risen? Have wars ended or corruption stopped within corporations? Have drug lords stopped proliferating (or has their supplier stopped pushing)? Have our politicians become more honest and have our ethics / morals become more solid as a result of dumping grounds for these law trespassers? Does jail help criminals become better citizens in our society (as some movies may lead you to believe) or make them stronger and better equipped, and even more able to carry out their crimes?

For that matter, have we thought about how many of those prisoners are actually innocent? How many of them may not have been good citizens or been great examples in other venues, but were decent human beings? We neglect to think about the difference between what’s illegal and what’s immoral, what’s unlawful and what’s wrong. I also understand that the prison industrial complex provides jobs. I get all of this and I wish I didn’t because the rationale is far too capitalist for my blood.

More importantly, I wish the best for Elijah Burress, Plaxico’s son, who’s a prisoner for the sin of his father. His father is a prisoner of this system. And we are prisoners to the thought that prison is the ultimate solution.

Jose, who’s in a Tupacian mood …

For more, please visit: http://www.criticalresistance.org/

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What Do I Think of Success? It Sucks

by Jose Vilson on December 2, 2008

in Jose

Plaxico Burress

Plaxico Burress

The bad news is that Plaxico Burress, wide reciever for the New York Giants, shot himself in the leg, and thoroughly embarassed himself, Antonio Pierce, and anyone else who accompanied him at Latin Quarters. The worse news is that this happened just about a year after Sean Taylor, free safety who last played for the Washington Redskins, was murdered in his own home, and also 2 years after Darrent Williams, former cornerback for the Denver Broncos, was shot in a drive-by shooting in front of a holiday party. Yet, anyone like me has to be wondering whether these 2 earlier deaths made it possible for Plaxico to get into this situation to begin with.

If I’m in the mind of Plaxico Burress, I actually might consider having a gun for protection. Then again, and in all sincerity, I can’t understanding having the issues he has. I haven’t walked an inch in his cleats. For athletes making millions of dollars, they’re certainly not in the danger that, say, their owners or general managers are. They’re constantly expected to be in the public eye, and some of them do it gracefully, but other athletes, especially with the dynamic personalities of the “star athletes,” always see themselves as a little closer to the heavens and put themselves in much riskier behaviors because of what’s been given to them.

Right about now, yes, you should be thinking that I’m being a little too nice to Plax, as I am a self-professed Giants fan. But whenever I need a real-life version of the men who were once boys, I turn directly to my students, the little thugs who profess their cogency by throwing up pseudo-gang signs, bobbing their nappy heads to some non-sensical rap song, and hogging the ball, some of it is selfishness, but it’s more that they really need attention and love. They’re hyper-sensitive to a fault and don’t have any other way to express that. And frankly, even the ones with a “reputation” are usually idiot savants, not malicious malcontents.

And that was all but evident when Plaxico Burress, the wide receiver who left Pittsburgh so ungraciously, caught the game winning touchdown at the Super Bowl and only a few minutes later cried his eyes out aon the field, hardly able to get a word out before he burst into another round of tears. Tears that worked better than a “I told you so.”

That makes me wonder if people take the time to look behind the story.

Yes, it was dumb. Beyond belief.

Yes, he could have just gotten a bodyguard.

Yes, he didn’t even have to go as he was already injured.

But now New York, and America for that matter, is inundated with another big story about a Black man and a gun, and a mayor calling for his head, etc. This is more than a Cheddar Bob joke or a “Giant Idiot.” This is a man in need of some serious help. Hope the time off he gets will do him some good.

Jose, who had to play Devil’s Advocate for a bit …

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The Triumph of the Human Spirit

by Jose Vilson on February 4, 2008

Hands

Cold Stone Creameries, Saturday.Michael Jackson blaring through the stereos above while some kids dance to it.

I’m chillin’ with my girl, scooping up on Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some and bragging to his girl about being a thriller in the sack.

A trip afterwards to the Virgin Megastore, and along the way, me giving pound to a dreaded VJ by the name of Sway while “The Bridge Is Over” by Boogie Down Productions played outside.

Stupid and simple moments like these make me believe that life has a purpose, no matter what the purpose was, and if it doesn’t, then let me not ruminate on its existence and use the time to live it to the fullest.

George Clooney helps me think on this some more through his role as Michael Clayton in the movie with the same title. On the one hand, we will readily sell out the next human being for millions beyond our necessity. On the other hand, we have people who will risk death (and life) to uproot these deft villains of human rights and liberties. Are these villains simply that evil or is it because they’ve ascended so high into the economic stratosphere that they’ve lost the ability to do the things normal people do, like breathe?

Naturally, this message became clear right after, when my girl wanted to have a little late-night conversation over at the Europa Cafe near Times Square. At first, we were a little wary after seeing all these Black and Latino youth surrounding the area in packs, something we hadn’t seen in that specific area since we started dating.  Then, it became especially weird when the front of the cafe had a line of dudes in the front, and I had to cut right through them. They were in some hostile formation I recognized from my own neighborhood. Something was amiss.

After sipping on my hot chocolate and her on her tea, we noticed the cafe closing at 1am, again unprecedented, but they seemed to be in a rush to move everyone out of their establishment. A busboy guarded the door, letting no one in while we heard sirens go off. A few minutes later, we heard more sirens go off, and as I turn and peek into 42nd St., there’s a blockade formed by the police. Imagine: one of the busiest streets on Earth completely emptied of anyone but cops. My first thought was, “We need to get to a train.” Then it became, “Fuck that; we need a taxi!”

I turned around, and the same boys and girls crowding the area had friends whose hands were bloodied. One young man had his hands completely red, and I did my best not to stare.

BANG BANG BANG!!!

Shots go off, and I immediately get into hood mode. I take my girl into the taxi, and we ride off into 34th, and I literally yelled at the taxi to move as quickly as possible.  The first thought that crossed into my mind was, “Why does this happen, even in parts where no one’s causing any problems?” Then it became more about the teenagers themselves, and why even in those settings, they were still prone to violent behavior? Is it because that’s the only way they’ve been taught how to act or because they have such a lack of self-worth that they have no problem even ridiculing how they’re going to shoot someone to death than keeping that promise?

That ate at my conscience for a while. I woke up, still a little tense from the previous night’s events. Then Sunday happened, and I remembered why I liked humans again. We’re prone to failure. We cheat, steal, lie, and even make dumb grammatical errors we have no business making. Thus, the best of us try to elevate those situations, even as we wallow in our misery. The best of us fight that feeling to give up on each other, even when we lose ourselves in a greater human cause.

On Sunday, I awoke, went to the gym, and wanted to go to the ALM’s house. I got on the bus, and of course, I would get the bus driver who’d never been on the route in his life. He made the wrong turn, so as he’s trying to get back on his route, we knew what was coming. He surpasses the first obstacle of making that first left. Then he tries to make that second left, and CLANK! The bus (an elongated bus with 8 wheels or so) hits a car in the back. He tries to step out, and CLANK! He hits another car. 7 people depart from the bus, leaving only the brave few.

So people who could have been the fathers and older brothers of the same people in the previous night’s scuffle came out and tried to help the bus driver (a Joel Klein doppelganger) out, and within 20 minutes and a little direction from me, that’s what happened. I didn’t make it to the ALM’s house, but there is the triumph of the human spirit. These men had nothing to lose, and in other situations, they’d laugh or scream at the bus driver for not knowing his route. We jeered him for a bit, but after a couple of car crashes and some screeches, we went into action.

Damn.

Not that these stories had anything to do with the Giants win. We can’t expect people to come from so much high expectation and adversity like Eli Manning, and for everyone to have a Tiki Barber, a friend turned enemy who threw him under the bus at every chance he got, or even a Jeremy Shockey, who attacked him about leadership, making snide remarks. But imagine after everything Eli’s been through, he still found 50+ guys behind him, and some coaches in front, who believed he was their guy. They’d lay out anyone and everyone for him, because as he goes, they go too. If he’s the underdog, then they’d be his fortress. And a small collective of Giants fans who actually believed in Eli since the first day, through his struggles and losses rejoiced at their apparent stubbornness.

After conquering the Goliath that was the New England Patriots, my cousin calls me on the phone, screaming and almost in tears over the win. I yelled along with him, a primal scream acknowledging the weekend that was. Even in the most insurmountable odds, the triumph of the human spirit can prevail. It takes a little ass-kicking and some serious inspiration to make that. There’s no one word to describe how events so contradictory and yet so meaningful meld into a full 72 hours of a human experience.

Heart.

Struggle.

Love.

Triumph.

Yeah … something like that.

jose, who still hasn’t done the “Why I Teach” post, but will get on it tomorrow …

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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS MY FRIEEEEENDS!!!!

February 3, 2008

:: screams this in hi-def:: We are the champions, my friends!!!! We kept on fighting till the end!!!!! We are the champions!!!! We are the champions!!!! Nobody’s perfect!!!! Because we are the champions of the NFL!!!! Just had to get that off my chest. Now, back to losing my voice … This has made my […]

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Shooting Airballs at an Imaginary Basket

February 25, 2007

As my first decree of totally partiality, I am a Yankees, Knicks, and Giants fan, and when I’m in the mood, the Rangers, too. Yes, it’s a bias that I assumed environmentally; I live in / love Manhattan, and even if the rest of the city treats the Lower East Side like an annex of […]

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